A boating tour around Santorini

Greece Day 5: Boating day
We booked a super ridiculously long 10 hour tour with King Thira boat tours through our hostel for $45 to take us to the Volcano, Hot springs, Thirassia, and Oia. They weren’t picking us up until 10 so we got up early to head to the market for some food for the day. I ended up with sandwich making materials, chips, water, 1 soda, and yogurt for breakfast for around 11 euros.

 The bus took us to the main port on the island (not the one directly under Thira as it is not bus accessible) where we boarded our very piratey-esque boat. Then we turned on the motors to get going set sail for a day of adventure.

 Thira from below 
 A zoomed in version of the lovely switchbacks we did just the day before to visit the port 
 The Volcano bay where we parked to take a short hike

It was a short ride of like 40 minutes to the Volcano bay. Entrance to the volcano site cost around 2 euros so if you go make sure you bring a bit of cash for that entrance fee. We had 2 hours of leisure to eat our yogurt we brought with us and hike around the volcano.

 All the boats parked. (ours is the 3 mast one on the right) You can see Thira in the background. 
 Volcanic rock with the Greek Flag and Thira in the background. 
 The trail cutting through all the volcanic rock. 
 The throng of people you start off with. The tour guide was walking with us and stopping at points of interest to talk about generic volcano information so never fear. You can easily do your own thing and pass the mob of unprepared flipflops and wedge wearers. 
 Nearing the top of the crater where there is a loop trail. 
 I love Cairn gardens
 Awesome views when you’re smack in the middle of the Caldera. 

 Volcanic rock with a view of Oia in the distance
 Thira in the distance. 
 The central crater

 Back on the boat it was another short 30 minute ride to the hot spring area. (above) The boat gets you as close as it can and then you’re in for a swim. It’s SO COLD at first but as you swim up that channel a ways it goes from ocean to heated pool to bath tub to hot tub! All the while you can feel different currents of hot and cold water. It is QUITE the swim as it is 100% deep the whole time so you’ve gotta be really good at treading water or an expert floater (like I am) haha

 I almost talked myself out of it since it was a little chilly but SO GLAD I did it. Even if you just make it to the mouth of the channel it will be warm enough and unlike any other experience. After the 30 min swim it was less than 10 minutes to Thirassia where we had 3 HOURS to dry off. Left: The port of Thirassia. We spent the first hour or so just sun bathing on the boat to dry off.

 3 hours though was WAY too long. 2 hours maybe. Still would’ve felt long but would’ve been better. For the last hour everyone had returned from eating lunch and was chilling on the boat. Then it started raining, all the shops in the port closed like 30 min before we even left… and it was a waste of time. My 1 big criticism is the pointless 3 hour stop at Thirassia.

 A long look at Oia, our final destination. 
 A rock with it’s own church

We had thought that we’d be watching the sunset from the boat but alas… it was a drop off in Oia to watch the sunset (what sunset?) which we’d done the day before. We were a tad bummed but as the sky was completely overcast and it was still drizzly, we were probably better off in town anyways.

BUT we did have to climb up from the port. SO MANY STAIRS (but not as bad as Thira) We had about 2 hours in Oia to kill until the bus would take us back to the hotel so we found a gelato shop that was out of the cold wind and had wifi and set up camp. Not the most thrilling evening but we did go to see if we missed anything at sunset and we definitely didn’t.

So all in all many pros and cons to the boat excursion we did. It was the cheapest boat excursion (as the catamaran tours started at 95 euros for 5 hour trips and didn’t take you to hike the volcano) and there were many cool experiences to be had. BUT the 10 hours thing just allowed for way too long of stops and felt like quite a waste of time. These were the options presented to us by our hostel. If you do enough digging before hand there are likely shorter options for cheaper. Next time I think I will dig a bit more.

Breakfast/lunch/dinner: 11.5 euros for a loaf of bread with deli stuff to make sandwiches, chips, apple, soda, and water for the day
Gelato: 2.50 for 2ish scoops (wasn’t nearly as good as the previous day gelato in Thira though)
Boat tour with King Thira tours: 45 euros pp
Entrance to Volcano: 2 euros pp
Hotel again divided by 3 people: 19
Total for day: 80 euros

The hike from Thira to Oia, Santorini

Greece Day 4: Santorini. As our flight didn’t get us in until well after midnight and we still had to get settled, we slept well into the next day only leaving our hotel, Villa Manos to walk into the main town Thira around 1. The walk was about 20 minutes (with 10 minutes on a narrow road with no sidewalk and almost no shoulder) but we did stop by a market and pick up cheap waters (1.5 liters for 35 cents!!! WHAT!?)

Thira is the capitol city of Santorini or the main town so we sought out the post office for post card stamps and explored the shops to pick up some souvenirs and wait out the hottest part of the day. (it was hot!) I loved all the church architecture and the walkways which had beautiful stone work done. Between the 3 of us we got caught up in quite a few shops with the longest being in a painting shop where we each got paintings haha. (but they were legit hand done for only 30 euros for like HUGE paintings!)

Thira itself is a fun place to explore with so many shops and hotels and restaurants around every corner. However make your way out to the coast and the views are very rewarding!

First on our checklist was to walk down to Thira’s port… which is quite the hike my friends for what goes down.. must come back up. I was hoping for a spot to jump in and swim but in Thira port, there is no such place. 🙁 We passed A LOT of donkeys on our way down as well but I had previously promised myself I wouldn’t ride one (though they looked to be pretty well taken care of despite things I had read earlier)

Looking back up at Thira on the way down to the port… about halfway down

The port! There are a few option to get back up from here. 1st is the cable car: cost is around 5 euros. 2nd are the donkeys: Cost around 7 euros
Third: the option we crazies decided to go with was to walk. The walk is paved switchbacks with wide stairs (approx. 600 of them!!!) and took us about 20 minutes to get back up (with rest stops) MAKE SURE you have water with you for you WILL need it. We all finished our massive 1.5 liters of water on the way back up.

Looking out from Thira at the volcano island (left) and the 2nd inhabited island of Santorini: Thirassia (right)

After our grueling climb back up from the port we immediately got more huge waters and started out on the coast hike to the town of Oia. (pronounced EEAh guys) It is approximately 11 km between the towns but as both towns are extremely long, you can count on adding at least another 6 km between walking through the towns)

Not too many blue domes in Thira but still some pretty architecture. From this view you can see the highest point of Santorini where the ancient ruins of Thira are. 

There are signs within the town to keep you on the correct path but I will say there are not THAT MANY. There WILL be moments of doubt, but when in doubt, stick to the coast and wider pathways.

YAY Blue domes! 

There are many beautiful stairs within the town. (like this) on your path to Oia, you won’t go up any of these as they mostly lead to hotels and restaurants.

A church in Thira
Making our way through the town. It took a long time to clear Thira. 
But finally, we were on a dirt trail out of the town looking back at the long coast. 

Starting to see Oia up ahead! Still a long way to go. 

One of the signs on the trail to keep you on the right path. Once you are out of the town, it is very easy to stay on the trail.

A Carin garden on the trail to Oia

There is a brief section of the trail that spits you out onto the main road. It is less than a Km on the road, but be careful as the shoulder is not very wide. Before long you will see the trail (with a sign) pick up again.

Looking back toward Thira. Part of what makes this trail so long is that the island is not a straight shot. You have to follow the curves and yes you have to go up all the hills. The trail goes up at LEAST 2-3 big hills instead of going around them. Make sure you have good footwear as there is loose volcanic rock in a lot of sections. 

Finally seeing the beginning of civilization up head with a church. The first thing we’d seen in miles.

There was also a cute dog at said church. 
Coming into Oia at long last! But still a ways to walk before we were ready for the sunset! 
Another beautiful church before we got into town. (sans blue dome though) 
Must. Stay on. The path. Blue domes in the distance!!! 

Ah a sign which actually tells you the distance! All the previous signs just gave you an idea (legit idea) of how long in time you will be walking. Say 3 hours. haha 

1st things first after all that hiking.. we were starving so we fell upon the first market we came across like ravenous wolves. I ended up with a very complete meal of a loaf of bread, apple, and bottle of coke. haha

From Oia looking back at Thira. 
The main square of Oia. To the right is the pathway to the buses. (as we learned later as we FOR SURE were taking the bus back haha) 

We got in with just enough time to stake out a good sunset watching spot. We explored the end and snapped a photo of the famous windmill. But then continues on to a better spot.

Basically follow the crowds but before you get to the rock where EVERYONE goes, take a right to a little side street where you get almost as many views for your shot, but a lot less people to contend with.

Now time to wait out the sun. (about an 1.5 hours since it set around 8:20) 

You can see a bit of the windmill peeping out by the dome (which to our sadness was not blue )

There area we were at also began to fill up with people but we had staked out our spots well where NO ONE could stand in front of us.

Lots of boats arrived to watch the sunset from the water.

The evolution of a sunset

As soon as that sun set out of site we hit the ground running to make it back to the buses. We got there in time to catch the first bus out (Barely) and the line looked pretty long as most people don’t shell out the money to stay in Oia… we must ALL get on the bus back to Thira.

Right: Thira lit up at night.

Now we knew we’d earned some gelato so we explored a bit of Thira until we came upon the MOST delicious gelato ever. They had a lot of different flavors but the 2 I settled upon was the 50 shades of grey flavor ( which they said was black vanilla, tasted like a cross over between white chocolate and vanilla) and Vinsanto which is their dessert wine on the island and had sun dried grapes (not rains) mixed in. Both flavors were sooo good, I will be forever dreaming of that gelato.
So we took our delicious dessert out to view the beautiful lights of Thira. We picked up our painting we had purchased previously and not wanted to hike with along with a few other souvenirs before making the scary walk back to Villa Manos. (it was after 11 that we started back and while the bus schedule claimed to go until midnight we couldn’t find any buses going our direction)

Day 4 costs: Breakfast at Villa Manos- a very small waffle for 5 euros
Our 2 giant waters total: 1.70 
Painting: 30 euros
Other various souvenirs: classified
Dinner of bread, apple, and coke from the market: 3 euros
Gelato: 2 scoops for 4 euros
Bus from Oia back to Thira: 1.80
Night at Villa Manos: 56 euros (again split between 3 people) so 19 pp
Total cost for day: 34.5 if you don’t count painting or 64.5 if you do
Total distance walked/ hiked: 17 miles 

Visiting Meteora

Greece Day 3: One of my most highly anticipated days of the trip!!!! METEORA

Not even kidding guys, I have been wanting to experience Meteora FOREVER. It’a short and steep climb ( on a bus! hehe) from the town to the first monastery St. Stephens which is.. by far the most accessible as there are NO STAIRS to reach this one, only a narrow foot bridge.

 There are monasteries everywhere you look, perched here and there, some of which I have NO idea how you get to
 St. Stephen’s monastery from the road. 

The inside of the monastery was soo peaceful and undisturbed as we were one of the first groups to get there in the morning. If you can picture any sacred place and invoke that feeling in your mind, you will understand how we felt exploring these beautiful monasteries.
For reference, the monasteries, as most churches in Greece, are Greek Orthodox and are still in operation today by diligent nuns AND monks.

To add to that, I’d also like to point out that St. Stephen’s is a Convent so it is run by nun’s. This is important as the monasteries only would not allow us females in on tours! So…. we visited the Meteora convents I should say. As they are first and foremost churches (not tourist traps) it is required to dress modestly with longer skirts and tops that cover your shoulders. (Women HAD to wear skirts, pants were not permitted however they did have wrap skirts you could borrow at each monastery)

Looking down on Kalambaka from St. Stephens. We are PRETTY sure this is the one monastery we could see from the town/ our hotel room! 
There were so many peaceful gardens within the monastery complex. 

We started our tour in a church which ABSOLUTELY took my breath away. If you have ever been in an Orthodox church then you know what I mean. Floor to ceiling gold and colorful paintings of the icons and the most ornate furniture and wood screen to hide the altar I’ve ever seen. I think the part that also blew me away was how devoted the monks must have been to build something so beautiful and devoted to God in such a challenging landscape.

It was also an incredible experience to witness the devotion STILL of people today as they moved around what I’m positive is our annoying tour groups, and worshiped within the small churches. It is to be noted that Meteora is a place people will consider pilgrimages they need to go to.

The entrance with the very narrow bridge to enter St. Stephen’s. 

 Brief history of St. Stephen’s Monastery: The foundation dates back to the 12th century, approx 1191 however the church within St. Stephen’s is recorded as being rebuilt in 1545 when many of the other buildings were added such as rooms for the monks. The monastery was also very heavily hit and damaged during WWII and the following civil war within Greece so a majority of what we saw/ pictured was recently done in the 20th century and in 1961 it was re-dedicated as a convent. While the grounds are not huge, the walls contain 2 chapels (only 1 of which we were allowed to visit) and enough room for 28 nuns to live within.
Operating hours (if you wish to go on your own) are daily from 9:30-1:30, 3:30-5:30 and closed on Mondays. I do recommend going with an organized tour however, especially if you are not familiar with Greek Orthodox as it was an amazing experience to learn about not just the history of the places, but the beliefs and reasons for the way they decorate the interior of their churches.

Another view of the monastery from the road. 
Other stunning monasteries from the road. (we unfortunately only visited 2) 
It will take a lot of stairs to reach that one I’m guessing! 

Taken from the bus. We were about to visit one of these 🙂 
Not only are the monasteries amazing, but the rock formations themselves are out of this world! 

The entrance to the 2nd monastery convent that we visited: The Holy Monastery of Varlaam. This one… had steps to get up to it but I will say it wasn’t too bad and if you look at the picture below.. the view while you climbed up was amazing and it was a lot more fun (to me) to feel I was making a climb for something so special.

The view of another monastery as you climb up to Varlaam

The beautiful courtyard at the top of the stairs and main entrance. You can see the road cutting along the cliffs across the way (how we got up there). I think there was a period of time when we could see as many as 4 or 5 monasteries at a time in the distance.

As we were not permitted photos within any of the buildings, this is the only photo I could get with artwork (as it is only the covered entrance to the church, we weren’t inside a building yet. AND YES I still asked permission before taking this photo) 

History of Varlaam: In 1350 a daring ascetic named Varlaam ascended to the rock. The monastery was named after him. He built three churches, a small cell and a water tank. After his death the rock remained abandoned for about 200 years. In 1517/1518 the two founders of the church, began to construct additional buildings. They renovated the little church of the Three Hierarchs and they erected the tower (more on this structure later). They also built in 1541/1542 the central church of the monastery dedicated to All Saints (which is the one guests are permitted to visit). The transportation of the materials lasted 22 years and the building only 20 days. 

“Since 1350, the ascent to the monastery was made by wooden ladders, each of which had about 25 rungs. The ladders were hanging from the rock with the help of pegs on the north side of the church and a gap was created between them. The monks often had to jump from one ladder to another risking even their own lives. This difficulty was due to the peculiarity and the morphology of the rocks. There were about 4 or 5 ladders consisting of 95 rungs at maximum. “

With the addition of the tower that was built, the monks and materials were hoisted by hand in a rope net using a pulley system. It was not until the 1920s when the stairs which we use today were carved into the rock to allow for easier access.

Although this is the 2nd largest monastery, only 7 monks currently reside and run the day to day functions. Again, women are required to wear long skirts with shoulders covered. Men are also required (in all monasteries) to wear long pants. No shorts permitted.

Buildings within the monastery to note: the old refectory( which is now a wonderful museum and not to be missed), the tower where you can see the old pulley system, behind the church is a room storing one of the MASSIVE barrels that they used to collect rain water, and the chapel of Three Hierarchs which “is a small aisle-less church with very beautiful frescoes and it was built in 1627.”

 The tower with the pulley. To the right of this building is where the ladders for the monks would’ve been
A beautiful spot behind the church

I also forgot to mention that in both monasteries there are “modern” restrooms available. (for women with our long skirts be aware these are of the “squatty potty” variety where there is no toilet but merely a flushing hole in the ground)
Hours for Varlaam Monastery are daily from 9AM to 4 PM and it is closed on Friday.

Between the 2 I enjoyed Varlaam more as the experience to get in was much more exciting, the museum is a lot larger and has a lot more information contained, the church itself has frescoes from the 1600s that have NOT been retouched at all so that is really cool. (St. Stephen’s as mentioned before the chapel was rebuilt as WWII so while the frescoes are a lot more vivid in color, they are  A LOT less old), the views look out to other monasteries instead of down on Kalambaka, and I do feel as if there is more open to the public to explore. There was also a very friendly monk that would smile and speak to me in Greek everytime we passed by and eventually asked “Ameria?” to which I said yes and that the monastery was beautiful. All in all so welcoming and friendly!

The main courtyard. The central church we are permitted to visit is the tallest building on my right. 

Ok a little information on the area: It is still a bit of a mystery as to how the Meteora rocks were formed but the most recognized theory is that they were deposited by an ancient river which once the river was gone, erosion did the rest. This is theorized by the make up of the boulders (sedimentary rock) and that they found pebbles that dated back to the same age as the larger boulders. Either way these rocks are unlike anything in the world.

Looking up at Varlaam Monastery from our bus heading back down into Kalambaka. 
We finished up at the monasteries just before noon and headed into Kalambaka for lunch where we had an hour however they dropped us off and recommended the restaurant Meteora restaurant which is family run. You enter into the kitchen where there are 10-15 giants pots containing a variety of meats and sides for you to choose from. There is an adorable grandma who explains which each dish is and will dish what you select up for you. Most plates range from 8-12 euros depending on how much meat you want but for 1 meat dish and 2 sides it was 10 euros. Then at 1 we were back on the bus headed to Athens through very mountainous terrain so I recommend bringing some motion sickness pills. (I was pretty miserably sick for 2 hours until we had our first rest stop) There weren’t any interesting points of interest to stop at however from the bus our guide pointed out the small city of Thebes and the town/lake Marathon which is 26 miles outside of Athens (yes this is where marathon races are derived from). Also as you follow the coastal road down to Athens, there are many islands and one of which was pointed out is where they filmed the movie Mamma Mia. We were dropped off at the main bus stop Syntagma Square around 7:30 and grabbed some dinner with new friends we had made. (Shout out to these wonderful new Friends, Aaron and Dean if they ever read this blog!) I tried a meat and potato tart as well as a kabab pita sandwhich for dinner. Then we took the bus from Syntagma to the airport to catch our midnight flight to Santorini where we had a shuttle waiting to take us to our next hotel. More on that later though. 
Day 3 costs: 
1.5 liter Water bottle from a Kalambaka market: 70 cents 
Breakfast: was actually delicious and included in our hotel stay
Lunch: 10 euros at Meteora Restaurant
Dinner: 8 euros in Syntagma Square
Meteora Monasteries: Admission was included in our tour costs but if you go on your own most monasteries are under 5 euros each
Bus from Syntagma Square to airport: 6 euros
Flight with Ryanair from Athens to Santorini: $40
Transfer from Airport to hotel Villa Manos: 15 euors which we split between 3, making it 5 euros pp
1 night at Villa Manos: around 56 euros. (19 pp)
Total cost for day: 88.70
Now also I’d like to claim that I remembered all of these facts from our tour guide but that would be a lie, so I’d like to cite and thank the below websites for filling me in on the gaps in my memory. Feel free to visit these sites to learn more not just about the 2 I visited but the others in the area. 

Let’s talk about one of my new favorite hikes! Diamond Fork Hot Springs in Spanish Fork. (now that I’m about to go again tomorrow night lol)

My friend over at Katiewanders.com and I went a week before the road opened hoping to have the place less busy and to catch the hot springs while it was still chilly! And we chose a gorgeous day to do it!

When the road is closed, it’s about 13 miles RT to the springs which made for a pretty long day but I have to say I’m grateful we did it this way. The road is gorgeous and hiking along that was honestly one of my favorite parts (of course until the way back that is..)

The dogs ran free in the wide open space where we didn’t have to worry about cars coming and could keep an eye on them.. and we really did have it pretty much to ourselves on the way there! Plus there’s this cool little pit stop area (pitured below) where the bathrooms were already open and the scenery was so different! Awesome!

We were in and our of shade/ sun which made this a great light jacket kind of day! We couldn’t wait to get to the hot springs and take a dip!

Eventually we got to the trail and friends just a heads up… at the parking area, DO NOT take the first bridge to the right (not sure where that trail leads) you have to continue straight for a bit and then you find this picturesque bridge 🙂

.. Luckily we realized this not to long after veering off so barely added any distance to out already pretty long day.
There was still some snow up there (none on the road) but it was pretty much only in the shaded tree lined trail parts and not deep at all! It was perfect!

The first sign we were nearing the hot pools! This little part of the creek was steaming and we were getting sooo excited at this point! (Not saying the gorgeous scenery above wasn’t keeping us happy cause it was… but come on a soak was needed after 6.5 miles)

The road was basically flat the whole time and the trail ha a little ups and downs, narrow at times and wider at others, but overall nothing had me breaking a sweat or breathing too heavy. I can definitely see the idea of coming when the road is open when you have a short hike to the falls and carry a bit extra weight in drinks/ a picnic!

The water was every bit as beautiful as we hoped! (unfortunately the 2 nude guys barely cropped out of this photo were not what we hoped lol) So we didn’t sit in any of the very blue water but headed up closer to the waterfall where we could have space to ourselves!

Monty wouldn’t TOUCH the water (prob due to the smell) but Ollie and Katie’s dog Olive hopped right in with us no problem. I think Ollie actually quite enjoyed the soothing warm water.

Also after this photo was taken I’m swearing off strapless bathing suits forever lol. After making so much fun of the nudists that actually bathe here, this photo looks like I joined them! (dont worry I definitely DID NOT) haha but still.. never again

I also learned on this hike to QUIT breaking in new hiking boots on long hikes. (I had massive blisters all over my toes and feet on the way back.. which is why that was not quite as enjoyable as foretold at top of post.) lol

All in all definitely glad I finally got to do it, especially with my amazing adventure friend Katie before she moved back east! And I can’t wait to do it again!